AI Part I: Introduction to the Uncanny Valley

February 18th 2015 in Blog

No conversation about the future is complete without a discussion of artificial intelligence (AI). There are quite a few misconceptions about what AI actually is and everyone has a slightly different way of approaching it. Usually opinions are at one extreme or the other; either gloatingly dismissive or obsessively paranoid. The rational response probably lies somewhere in between.

Here’s a more rational approach.

AI is not a living thing and it never will be. It’s exactly what the name implies; a simulation of intelligence that can give the illusion of being a sentient being. But no matter what, anything and everything it does is a result of complex programming. But when it gives the illusion of being a living thing and it does it so convincingly, what kinds of effects will that have on people?

There’s a concept in robotics (and it applies to other simulations as well, such as computer generated imagery – abbreviated as CGI – in films) called the “uncanny valley.”  The idea of the uncanny valley, a concept put forward by roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, posits that our brains can recognize when something is “off” in a fellow human. If someone is lying to you, you may believe them, but if they have a subtle “tell” your brain can pick that up and process it without you fully realizing it. Presumably, you are used to truthfulness in your interactions with others. Even the subtlest lie can give a sensation of unease.

As simulations both virtual (CG) and physical (robotics) continue to advance and become more realistic, our brains accept what we’re seeing as obviously fake. But when say, a CG human in a movie is 99.9% realistic, the upward curve collapses into that uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is the point where every single tiny little thing that’s “off” jumps out at us. Simply put, a simulation of life, like a robot, will continue to become realistic and relatable until it is so close to being a hundred percent indistunguishble from the real thing that the tiniest details jump out at you, often causing discomfort. You can watch a CG animation like a Pixar movie with traditionally exaggerated cartoonish humans and not feel creeped out. Your brain doesn’t pick up the flaws of the blue cat people in Avatar because you know that blue cat people aren’t real and your brain isn’t wired to recognize them. But when you watch something attempting photorealism, your alarms go off. You may not be able to say why (although it’s usually described as soulless dead eyes).

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Creepy Stoner Child never really caught on as a Christmas tradition.

Let’s say that AI does become self-aware and reaches the theoretical point that is called the singularity (more on that in the next part). Let’s say that a machine becomes self-aware; it knows it’s a machine, but that can’t change anything as far as its own existential problems. It’s still just a machine. If it looks like a trashcan, it’ll be easier to accept. But if it looks like a regular person, you might have trouble rationalizing to yourself, this is a walking iPod. Animators know this trick; that’s why everything from Disney princesses to Avatar cat people to Wall-E have massive eyes. It instantly makes the character empathetic (and sells tons of toys). Even cars have “faces.” It’s why in PG action films, bad guys are usually masked. It’s easier to accept that the heroes are killing hundreds of other humans if we can’t see the faces they’re snuffing the life from.

I’ve talked to people who don’t care about any of this at all. An AI-powered robot is just a glorified computer. Therefore, any concerns are moot and why should we care? I agree with this, but I would disagree that there shouldn’t any concern at all. Any unchecked advancement in a field of science will lead to trouble.

Innovation And The New Space Age

February 11th 2015 in Blog

They always say that hindsight is 20/20. This usually seems to apply to the speculation that is traditionally presented in the science fiction genre. To some degree, at least. There’s so much being explored in the realm of futuristic fiction that it’s difficult to see what’s going to stick until it actually happens. Jules Verne’s submarine was far-fetched at the time, but a few decades later, U-boats were crucial aspects of modern warfare. At the same time, other topics in science fiction – self-aware artificially intelligent machines in the work of Isaac Asimov and space colonization in that of Arthur C. Clarke for instance – have remained in a firmer speculative category.

Until now. For a good portion of the 20th century, this kind of space-age futuristic advancement was dependent on government programs. Indeed, much of the innovation that we’ve seen has come about as a result of arms-racing, or the PR arm-wrestle that was the Space Race. Once there was no need for America to beat the USSR in getting to the Moon first, space travel became less of a government interest, leading NASA into a state of decay and relegating astronauts to low Earth orbit research missions. This following statement is both fascinating and frustrating: we went to the moon and came back safely before we had internet and cell phones. And we haven’t been back since.

What happened?

Innovative events like the Moon landing came from a need to reassure the people of America – at a time when political propaganda was widely accepted and less contested – that we were the best and we could beat anyone. Once we did, there was no reason to keep going further. The goal had been set and met. This is the same thing that happens when someone starts a company with the attitude of “I’ll sell it in two years for a gazillion dollars.” Those companies don’t generally fare quite so well as the ones that are started from the attitude of “let’s make a positive impact and, yeah, we’ll be sure to make some money on the way, too.”

Great innovation and true ground-breaking discovery comes from a maverick attitude that is quite prevalent in the startup world. You’ve got an industry that is home to a few self-made billionaires (the kind who drop out of Ivy League schools to start Facebook or Microsoft) who generally have an anti-authoritarian attitude (remember, it takes a special kind of insanity to be this different) but often a compassionate side for humanity as a whole.

Technological leaps aren’t as easy as banging out a few prototypes and Kickstarting the rest. Thomas Edison famously went through 10,000 lightbulbs before he found the most viable solution. Your iPhone is a very affordable luxury; but it took millions of dollars to reach your pocket. And unless you are a big company that can dump tons of cash into what will likely end up being skunkworks, there’s not a lot of immediate incentive to push things beyond the current status quo. This is where renegade billionaires come into play. Self-made entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or Elon Musk or Bill Gates don’t necessarily need to see a return on every single thing (although it’s still good business to do so) right away. But because these are all people who see beyond the short-term advantages (immediate profits, for one) they can give complex ideas the time necessary to come to full fruition. They have the resources and patience to nurse something until it can spread its own wings. As an example, Musk’s Tesla Motors reported its first profitable quarter in 2013 – ten years after opening up shop. Patience pays off, especially when you can afford it. On top of that, they are interested in making the world a better place after they’ve passed on. Pushing for huge industry changes like electric over gasoline vehicles reflect that.

That’s why we are seeing a second renaissance in complicated and expensive industries like spaceflight, for instance. Right now guys like Elon Musk are saying what NASA was saying when I was a kid; that we’ll have someone on Mars in the next 15 years or so. Except this time, I believe the person saying it. I have no doubt that humans will have landed on Mars by 2020. NASA has been limping along as an underfunded government arm for several decades now. With no uber-patriotic cause needed to unite America the drive isn’t there at a government level. But SpaceX and Virgin Galactic don’t need to ask for the permission of politicians to spend taxpayer’s money on “useless” science playtime.

The kinds of innovations that are being made now aren’t feats that can be accomplished in a garage. While those will always be around, you can’t get to space with spare car parts and popsicle sticks. Just like the Age of Discovery five centuries ago, the Age of Space will be funded by private corporations. And just like those in the Age of Discovery realized, the feasibility of a round trip means that any progress will be naturally impeded by the effort and time wasted on returning. Just as New World colonization was a one-way ticket, so too will be missions to far-off places like Mars.

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Mobile Apps in 2015: Some Numbers

February 4th 2015 in Blog

Here at Wovax we get really excited about tech in general and where its innovations are taking the world. This week though, we’re going to revisit some of our own territory – but it is still exciting and shows what’s coming. Or rather, what’s already arrived and how it will keep growing.

Let’s look at how mobile usage has grown recently.

Something we like to revisit from time to time is growth in the area of mobile usage. Apple closed out 2014 with a massively record-making $18 billion quarter (in profit) thanks to last fall’s iPhones. Considering they barely sold more iPhones than Android phones than were sold in the same time frame, that’s a lot of devices for both sides of the mobile camp. It’s not too surprising, given that 80% of internet users own smartphones.

Currently, there are 1.75 billion smartphones being used worldwide, and that’s at the current rate of growth. As internet continues to become less of a first-world luxury and more of a standard commodity similar to a car or lightbulb, those numbers will continue to explode.

Each piece of the mobile web pie is growing every year, and one of the pieces that is especially important to the business sector is online shopping. According to IBM, online sales went up nearly 14% during the 2014 holiday season as compared to the previous year. This makes sense as holidays are a busy time for everyone and people will be on the go more than usual (which, nowadays, is quite often). People will be traveling and out of town and when travel efficiency is a concern, mobile devices generally win out; even over a laptop.

Pulling back from November/December to get the full 2014 perspective, mobile app usage grew by 76% in 2014 with lifestyle and shopping apps leading the way at a whopping 174% growth. For years now, studies have been predicting that 2015 will be a crucial mark in the point where mobile web rules internet traffic. As we can see by current studies and the spiking growth of app-based mobile traffic and shopping, we can see that this is absolutely the case.

As we’ve been growing our client base, we have discovered that many businesses and organizations – from restaurants to blogs to school districts to real estate – have been quickly realizing the obvious benefits in staking out a mobile presence. The efficiency and reach of a mobile app is a main attractor. They all have specific needs and are able to use the flexibility that an app provides in meeting those needs. For example, a school will generally place high priority on being able to reach parents, teachers, and students for announcements or more serious matters like an emergency. Real estate is a no-brainer as it allows people to peruse listings on the go; while they house-shop, for instance.

Running a website represents a large part of many livelihoods. With the numbers and data from the last half-decade accurately reflecting precisely what is happening now and where the traffic is coming from, it would be stupid to delay a mobile app presence any longer.

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Probably not this stupid, but close.

Why Did No One Care About NFC Until Apple Did?

January 28th 2015 in Apple, Blog, Technology

One of the most talked about aspects of last fall’s new iPhone lineup was the Apple Pay feature. Using contactless NFC (near field communication) technology built into your phone, this software allows for making payment without a physical credit card. And by using your fingerprint instead of an easily stolen PIN, verification is more secure. Staying true to the form of the best technology streamlining simple tasks to be even simpler and aiding in the decluttering of our lives, Apple Pay was a hit.

Much of the appeal for the upcoming Apple Watch comes from it featuring NFC as well, allowing you to pay with a swipe of the wrist.

Critics were quick to point out something; Apple didn’t invent NFC technology. In fact, it’s been present in phones for quite a while. Nokia started introducing NFC in 2006, and Samsung has been using it in their phones for several years now.

Words like “steal” get tossed around quite a bit in tech these days. Sure, tech companies are always at each other’s throats in bitter court battles, but most of that is a formality. But the heart of a thriving market has always been in competition, and that will only come about when companies try to out-do each other. For the most part, this will work out well for everyone involved. In trying to beat the competitor, a company will push itself beyond what it thought was possible and ideally create the best product it can. To that end, customers will end up with a selection of top-notch products or services that they can choose from.

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Pictured: some healthy competition.

Apple didn’t invent the computer. Instead, they made it more accessible to the general public. They didn’t invent the MP3 player, but instead used the classic “razor and blades” approach with the iPod and iTunes store respectively. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but they once again made it accessible and approachable to the average consumer. These innovations were so successful that in 2007 the company changed its name from Apple Computer, Inc. to a simpler Apple, Inc., thus signifying a shift to consumer electronics in a broader sense.

This isn’t a “let us now bow down and worship Steve Jobs” article. But as it stands, Apple is currently the world’s most valuable brand. Even if you hate them, you have to admit that they are clearly doing something right. So what is it?

The two things that Apple has gotten ridiculously right are branding and environment. I’ve talked before about the anecdotes I collected working the sales counter in an Apple retailer and I’m still amused by the amount of people who would complain to me about how much they hated Apple because of how expensive it is, or because Steve Jobs was a jerk, Apple is about to start losing money, etc, etc. Joke’s on them though, because they still came in to buy a $2000 Facebook machine. Oh, and Apple just had the most profitable quarter of any company in history. As in, they blew past the previous record quarter which was held by a natural gas company. Right after “everyone” said their gargantuan iPhones would fail. But negative critics are often the loudest. Most people are happy with the products that Apple offers. Those kinds of numbers don’t lie.

One of the biggest things they have gotten right is branding. Their logo doesn’t say “Apple” anywhere. And yet, you see it and just know. Apple. It’s a McDonalds/Nike/Starbucks level of recognition. That’s impressive. The reason for this is the overall branding of Apple’s products as not just a computer or phone, but also as a lifestyle choice. An Apple product is more than a chunky plastic workhorse. I’ve been in many – I use this term lovingly! – snobby people’s homes that look like something from a magazine or Pinterest board and have often seen a large iMac front and center in the living room, frequently in place of a TV. These are well-designed products and pleasant to look at, not things that get tucked away in a home office. People like to be seen with an Apple product. The pride in the design on both the part of the company and their customers is a large reason for the company’s success and the Apple logo represents that.

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Well, it does now.

The other aspect of Apple that has given them a solid edge over their competition is the environment they created. Apple has their own ecosystem from the moment you buy the computer to every time you use it to rent a movie. Their products all work together seamlessly and require no third parties. The strength of Apple’s ecosystem extends beyond the retail aspect of retail Apple Stores and iTunes. It is inherent in the software as well. Both the desktop software (OSX) and the mobile software (iOS) are built in-house at Apple and in collaboration with the people who design the products. This gives a certain level of seamlessness that no one else can boast of. Android for instance has to work on many devices made by many different companies. This means that glitches and bugs are going to be more common. Many complain of Apple’s closed off ecosystem, but it certainly serves a purpose in functionality.

So why did no one seem to care about NFC until Apple jumped into the game? Because many other tech companies have a history of putting out half-baked prototypes that don’t make enough of an impact to stick around. Apple has a reputation for taking its time and putting out a product that will integrate easily with the rest of its carefully constructed environment.

Is this fair to other companies? Of course it is. Companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Google are successful in their own way. They’re all worth billions of dollars as well. They’ve all found their own niche and taken it. But Apple’s niche happens to be the one with the widest reach: taking a complicated tech product that others haven’t quite nailed down and making it accessible and understandable to everyone.

Digital Identity Is Becoming Important

January 21st 2015 in Blog

Science fiction is one of the most important and interesting genres of storytelling that we have. Its strength lies in the ability to be a little more on-the-nose than normal and make its own obviousness easier to swallow by transposing the story to a future world that somewhat resembles our own. This isn’t us, but it could be. This isn’t actually how oppressive our world is right now – or is it? We’re not actually living in a simulation – or are we? A common theme found in sci-fi is the idea that people are nothing more than numbers in a giant system that lets them exist so that it can exploit them. Barcodes to be scanned, numbers to be punched.

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Science fiction.

One very sci-fi sounding idea that already exists is the idea of digital identity. Your digital identity can be defined as who you are online. Everything posted about you, both by yourself and by others, whether it’s true or not. Every brand, movie, band, TV show, restaurant, or sports team page that you like on Facebook or follow on Twitter.  If someone (such a potential employer) Googles you, what will they find? Whatever they find is your digital identity. It’s your reputation and interests made tangible. But if you’re plugged into the internet at all, it can be hard to control.

The current generation (mine) is growing up with a unique dilemma that no one else has yet faced. Social interactions have been generally limited to direct in-person communication and if something was written down it was either intended to be read by only one or two other people or else it was supposed to be seen by many people. There wasn’t a lot of in-between on that. Nowadays, it’s easy to let the line blur between private and public. When you post on your buddy’s Facebook wall that you wanna hang out, you’re essentially standing in a room full of everyone you’ve ever met and shouting across everyone else to your friend. Not only that, but you know all the dumb little conversations your average day has? If you’re typing it, it’s stored away somewhere, theoretically forever. It’s a weird way to communicate.

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“You wanna hang out later?”

This leads to interesting side effects. Assuming you behave in mostly the same way online that you do off, it’s remarkably easy for third parties to figure out who you are. Not in a “we know your name and where you live” kind of way but more of a “we know what you like to eat for lunch and what you’re going to buy next and who you have a crush on.” This isn’t as sinister as it sounds; for the most part, they just want you to give them your money. And honestly, if I’m going to look at ads, I’d rather see ads for things I might actually want to buy.

The inconvenient and more invasive side of this has recently come into play with the way many potential employers have treated social media. Recently, employers started demanding that job candidates hand over login credentials to their Facebook accounts as part of the interview process. While this was swiftly made illegal in many states, it doesn’t stop them from looking at what is publicly accessible. And while there’s nothing wrong with the HR department taking a look at your Twitter, having a social media presence is so normal these days that not having one is also considered – perhaps unfairly – a red flag by many. The assumption is that people who choose not to share their lives on Facebook or Twitter are hiding something. This will likely be a passing fad as older generation bosses who aren’t quite sure how to handle new digital trends are replaced by millennials. But for now, digital identities are taking root and becoming akin to something like a credit score; you need to have it to be allowed to do certain things, but it should also be managed wisely.

Is A Car That Drives For You A Good Idea? Yep.

January 14th 2015 in Blog, Technology

The most significant technological advances are the ones that allow our lives to become more efficient. This in turn frees up more hours during the day for activities beyond basic hunt-and-gather survival. Mass distribution of information – from Gutenberg’s press to WordPress – have allowed information to be freely generated and accessed, thus improving people’s ability to educate themselves. Things that were once time-consuming are now automated. In fact, a good way to tell if a new invention or idea is going to stick is this – will it create more hours in the day for the average person?

Someone is always going to make an objection about putting too much faith in technology, and it’s good to have those checks and balances. But the fact that it’s commonplace (and safe) to sit in a metal tube with hundreds of other people 30,000 feet up in the sky while we zip along at 600 MPH shows that what we’re already capable of is not any more extreme or dangerous than other scary-sounding possibilities. Like self-driving cars.

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“I’m reading an article about self-driving cars and, boy, they sure sound real dangerous!”

This past weekend my roommate and some of his buddies where watching the 2004 movie I, Robot (which has held up quite well for a brainy Isaac Asimov story that got Will Smith’d harder than anything since Bad Boys 2). Watching the movie’s driverless cars in action after a week of reading about this year’s CES was surreal because what I was seeing in a decade-old action movie and that day’s headlines were essentially identical.

I’ve admittedly been a slow convert to the self-driving car idea, mainly because of safety concerns. But as more companies have developed safety implementations in their car’s software and sensors, it becomes more reasonable to accept. It’s easy to be cynical about this – why would we be dependent on a computer to tell us where to go? But we’ve been doing that for a while. While there’s obviously a human element to machines such as airplanes and visually-impaired vehicles such as submarines, the human operators are still dependent on radar or sonar. We’re already trusting these machines not to break down everday, so why not take that a little further? (I know that sounds like something the greedy tycoons in Jurassic Park would say, but bear with me). Our safety track record is honestly pretty good. We sent people to the moon and brought them back alive nearly half a century ago. By the time any self-driving vehicle legally makes it to the marketplace, it’ll have gone through so much red tape and testing that it will become the safest way to travel by far. Will there still be accidents? Yes. There will always be accidents. Unfortunately, that’s just how this world works. But there will be less.

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Especially if we can get Will Smith in that robot car.

To me, one of the most exciting aspects of self-driving cars is the potential for regaining lost time. For people in large areas of urban sprawl, spending a few hours in the car everyday is a fact of life. When you think of all the man-hours being burned away in a driver’s commute, those numbers really add up. Automated processes take time away from menial tasks and allow people to spend more time with the families they are providing for as well as on their own personal self-improvement. Automated cars will free up time for any kind of work or activity you would normally do on a train or bus commute.

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You’ll also be able to play road games like “smartcar or Studio Ghibli character?”

There are challenges ahead, of course. Most people assume they’re the best driver on the road and any problem lies with “other people.” Convincing a population that equates turning 16 and the freedom of driving yourself around with being an adult is going to be tricky. Potentially, the biggest hurdle will be the unknown factor of a computer driving your car. Legally speaking, things will get complicated. What happens if your driverless car does cause an accident or hit someone? Who’s to blame? Road laws and insurance policies will have to be completely rewritten. If self-driving cars do drastically reduce accidents, what will that do to traditional driving? Will driving a manual car become illegal? Should it? Issues like this will cause actual practical implementation of this technology to be very difficult at first.

Different companies have different approaches right now but they’re all aiming for the same target. The majority are aiming for a mostly-automated driving experience (particularly useful for highways) but will allow for human intervention as well. Tesla Motor’s CEO, Elon Musk, estimates that within this year 90% of the driving time in their cars will be automated. A few, like Google, are going bold by completely excluding steering wheels and acceleration controls in favor of only a touchscreen GPS system. In a similar fashion to Google, Mercedes debuted a high-class concept car at CES last week that allows the front seats to swivel 180º so all the passengers can face each other and chat, old-school carriage-style.

There will always be things that go wrong, but advanced technology like this will help eliminate dangerous factors and make driving a safer experience for everyone. And in the new “internet of things,” smart cars are undeniably poised to be the next big thing. The changes will be gradual, but they’re on the way. And since most of these driverless automobiles are going to be hitting the marketplace after electric cars have had a few more years to become ubiquitous, it’s safe to say that the entire automobile industry is going to be a completely new beast in just a few short decades.

Product Quality and Tech Oversaturation

January 8th 2015 in Blog, Technology

Right now CES is going on and that means there’s some pretty neat tech on display. It also means a lot of this. Tech companies have a unique dilemma these days. They want to provide consumers with a product line that is constantly innovating and changing. But they also want to deliver something of a quality that won’t be wasted on an item with such a short shelf life. Currently, the tech industry is overrun with so much stuff. Right now gadgets have a remarkably short lifespan, partially because the industry is still new and devices are outdated within months of their release. This has led to a mindset of disposability that is shockingly common for products that cost as much as these do.

With relatively new industry processes such as mass-production, a modern company can manufacture products and put them in any number of retailers they wish, generally limited only by their budget. Consumers have a buffet of choices when going tech shopping. For the most part, they’re choosing between dozens of the same thing with different packaging. Inevitably, there is now consumer fatigue. Not only is there an over-saturation of tech, but a lot of it is lacking in the quality department as a physical product as well as just being well-designed. It’s been a deluge of mostly shoddy products and consumers want relief.

Think of a well-designed product like computer generated imagery (CGI) in a film. A movie like The Avengers is fun to watch and impressive in the scope and size of its battles and flashy effects, but you know what other movie had a ton of CGI and won an Oscar for it? Forrest Gump. When it comes to an effective product, you want Forrest Gump. Unassuming and effective. The design is there front and center, but also invisible. Design tells you how to use the product without ever having to read instructions or watch a demonstration. It should be natural and intuitive, without drawing too much attention to itself.

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To be fair, it was either this or hiring Daniel Day-Lewis to eat uranium.

When you have a product being used for a dozen different everyday tasks, it pays to have something that lasts and makes an impression. A company can make a fast buck and crank out something cheap, satisfying themselves and their consumers for a short time. But eventually people become dissatisfied with their hollow plastic phones shutting down after a year. They’ll want something that has a bit more weight to it that can be used for more than a couple years at a time. Striking a balance between a solid product line and innovation without making a cheap disposable toy is crucial.

Soon we’ll see less frequent releases of tech products in general. The ones that we do see more infrequently will be longer-lasting due not only to their build quality being less disposable but also because big innovations will come less and less frequently within current industries. The practical reason for this is that we’re coming to a stabilization in new industries like smartphones and tablets and they will start to have longer life-cycles as a result. The next innovations will then come along, create new industries, and the whole process will probably start over again.

Facebook Is Not the Bad Guy

December 11th 2014 in Blog, The Web

So what’s the deal with Facebook and small business? There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about it recently. Ever since Pages was introduced in late 2007, Facebook has provided a seemingly oxymoronic concept: free advertising. Paid advertising has remained popular amongst larger businesses (especially since it allows post content to go beyond the users who have liked your pages), but for many smaller businesses this isn’t always an option.

The gears that make Facebook tick – and social media in general – are posts and content spreading organically depending on how many likes and shares they receive. The golden ticket for this kind of social interaction is “going viral,” a term that has become just as much a part of the modern lexicon as “blog” or “selfie.”

This has made it easier for small and burgeoning businesses to get themselves out there without sinking too much of their usually limited resources into advertising. People will share the things they like with the people they like, and that includes advertising. The smartest advertising is the kind that gets people talking. When enough people are talking, your brand is in the atmosphere long after your initial content was released. It’s a marketing utopia.

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Like this, but happier.

So what’s the deal with Facebook and small business? Facebook announced that it would begin culling business pages’ organic posts from users’ newsfeeds in favor of paid ones. For big companies that already pay for every post they make, that won’t be an issue. But for small and growing businesses, this means some good long rethinks of marketing strategy. Facebook’s reasoning for this change is this: as more businesses (especially startups) join the networking site, users’ newsfeeds are becoming more and more crowded. And even though people may like a page, they may not want to see hundreds of updates from businesses every time they log in to look at whatever cat memes George Takei is posting.

Does it suck? Yeah, sure, it kinda sucks. Free advertising is awesome and it was great while it lasted. But from Facebook’s perspective, and anyone who would be in their position, it isn’t. Facebook is, no duh, massive. It was never sustainable for them to give away services that are reasonable to charge for and, no, they don’t owe it to you. The personal profiles will always be free and that will never change. And it’s completely sensible for them to assume that businesses will generally have a marketing budget for an online presence. And as Facebook continues to grow they will, like any business, make changes to keep the doors open. You’re not obligated to stay. That’s like going to your friend’s house and complaining when they rearrange the furniture because you can’t put your feet on the coffee table anymore.

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“Yeah, look man, I’m just gonna go and hang out at Chad’s. He lets me put my feet on stuff.”

Here’s what’s going to happen. A lot of businesses that have been coasting exclusively on free Facebook advertising will see a drop in traffic. Instead of doing some hard work and taking their online presence – or at least dispersing it – elsewhere, they’re going to use this the reason for why they’re now floundering back into obscurity. It’s a nice excuse, and Facebook is an easy target. Big…successful…corporate…evil. Look at those bastards charging for advertising!

Don’t do this. If you haven’t already, you should use this an opportunity to expand your vision and seek out other online venues that will be useful in growing your business via word of mouth. In the history of business, even modern business, Facebook is flash-in-the-pan. It’s barely a decade old. And it’s not going to be around in its current form forever. We had AOL and Yahoo. Now we have Facebook and Twitter. Ten years from now we’ll have something else. But Facebook doesn’t want to be AOL. It wants to be that something else. So it’s doing what you should always be doing. Adapting. The landscape will always change, and hinging your marketing strategy on someone else’s rapidly changing business model is just plain stupid.

Tech As An Open Source Commodity

December 3rd 2014 in Blog, Technology

Advancements in technology are an undoubtedly great thing. To us, the most appealing aspect is the accessibility. The thing that makes technology advancements so powerful is that it takes the unusual and fascinating and makes it available to everyday “normal people” like you or me.

In the days of the printing press, mass communication became much easier than ever before. But you still had to have a printing press, or at least access to one. Today all you need is access to a computer. And if cash is tight, you can buy a Chromebook for $200 or use a buddy’s. Manufacturing a product required a heavy amount of capital in the funding of said product and getting it to to an assembly line. Now, with access to a 3D printer, prototypes and products can be printed on demand.

This leveling of tech is a great time to live in. As an example, 3D printing has actually been around for several decades, but because of patents in place by the companies that innovated the tech, it was unavailable for use by anyone else. Technology that should theoretically be affordable (in the $500 range, the price of a cheap computer) was being built for five figure price tags and being sold to a very niche market. This was the reason that Elon Musk of Tesla Motors patented their innovative electric car technology but gave full reign to others in using the same discoveries. He was concerned that less ethical companies would swoop in and patent things for the purpose of sitting on them, thus inhibiting the entire industry. (This happens in just about every industry all the time. Hollywood studios will often buy risky scripts with no intention of making them because they’re scared someone else will do it if they don’t).

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We’ll…uh…we’ll get around to that later.

Tech done right gives everyone, regardless of their place in a societal caste, the ability to make themselves heard as well as the power to create. Tech this powerful is hated by influential people who aren’t willing to adapt. Oppressive governments hate the Internet because it lets a downtrodden population see the world through an unfiltered lens. Big oil companies and established car companies  hate electric car makers like Tesla because it threatens their comfort zones.

The internet has shown us the advantage of open source software. By putting code into the public domain, a fantastic and fully-polished product emerges, always evolving at the hands of the world. Blender is a powerful 3D modeling software that is considered among the best in the world. Mozilla is a non-profit organization that backs open source projects such as Firefox, one of the most widely used web browsers in the world. WordPress, which we are obviously big fans of, is open source as well. Physical tech is headed this direction as well. 3D printing is going to not only open up a whole new world by allowing manufacturing to become more personal but it will also force large companies to change as they face new challenges in battling piracy. “You wouldn’t download a car” isn’t all that hyperbolic anymore.

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Time to fire up Pirate Bay!

This is a good thing. Competition is good for business. But when your competition is just a couple of other multimillion dollar corporations who are also playing it safe, then entire industries stagnate. A guy selling cars running off solar-powered batteries is a problem for all the other car manufacturers of the world because staying in business will require them to, you know, work hard and take a risk. Musk putting Tesla’s patents up for grabs while still keeping them safe in a legal sense is a first step towards a world where knowledge is something to be shared and used to make life better for everyone.

Augmented Reality Is On The Way

November 26th 2014 in Blog, Technology

Last week we started to dip into the world of wearable technology which naturally leads us to augmented reality. Virtual and augmented reality have started to become a big deal in the startup world. The first device to start getting recent serious traction in virtual reality was Oculus Rift. Oculus Rift has become pretty well known as a 3D gaming device although it looks akin to something that Popular Mechanics would keep promising us is coming out for about ten years. It garnered a bit of controversy when the creators raised about $2.5 million for development only to turn around and sell to Facebook for $2 billion because, you know, screw those guys for being smart. The exact future of Oculus Rift is currently uncertain, but we can probably rule out a virtual Facebook wall.

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Political debates would be more fun, though.

Another big player that just put quite a bit of trust into this tech is Google, and the trust is about half a billion dollars in a company called Magic Leap. Having just started, their website is barely informative but avoids being too vague to not be intriguing. We do know they are tinkering with what is being called “cinematic reality”. Cinematic reality focuses on human creativity and integrating it into how we interact with the world. So it’s not too surprising to note that Magic Leap is working closely with film effects studio Weta Workshop whose founder, Sir Richard Taylor, sits on Magic Leap’s board. The product is said to be built into glasses although it will be vastly different from something like Google Glass because of the way it displays data. Instead of a screen that shows the display, the visuals are directly projected onto the wearer’s retina – a method that has the ability to show a stunningly photorealistic image in a whole new way.

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“Hey man, you wanna try out my new computer? It’s like drugs.”

This kind of technology is a big deal, not just because of the vast potential for its use, but because of the social implications as well. There are of course the usual gamut of questions to go through from the ever-watchful critics in the peanut gallery. What are the sociological effects of something like this? Is it actually wise to merge reality with this type of intense virtual stimulation? We humans are very capable of telling the difference between what is real and what isn’t. And because of the way our minds are programmed, there is a threshold where our brains get confused. But we’ve been doing that for a while. For example, we tell stories because they make us feel a certain way. We know deep down that so-and-so is a fictional person, but markings on a page concerning his fate still make our hearts race faster. It’s taken to an extreme with things like theme parks where first-world people who have never had to be in a life-or-death situation board a machine that tricks the body into thinking its about to die, even when the person knows that’s not actually the case.

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Happy birthday, kid. Let’s pretend to die all day!

But with proper use, augmented reality can be just as real as anything we make or build. A school isn’t “the real world.” It’s a constructed microcosm that serves as an environment that is quite different from the actual world. Neither is say, a grocery store. We know that food doesn’t come from a store shelf, but we do know that it’s our method of access. But we probably wouldn’t say that it isn’t useful just because we didn’t slaughter or harvest it ourselves. Ideas, especially half-formed or innovative ones, can become much more accessible through a physical manifestation. That’s why we have whiteboards. Companies like Magic Leap that emphasize creativity and learning have a better chance of making it over something like Oculus Rift which is essentially just an Xbox for your head. I’m not saying that Oculus is bad, but as a non-gamer it’s just not as exciting for me. Augmented reality shouldn’t be boxed in by the users or creators as another fancy game console. It’s imagination and ideas becoming real and that’s why it’s so exciting.

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